Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in Texas on Saturday, leaving in his wake confusion, an empty SCOTUS chair, and questions as to how and when and with whom his vacancy will be filled. They are still in this term so what does that mean for this term’s cases?
Votes that the Justice cast in cases that have not been publicly decided are void. Of course, if Justice Scalia’s vote was not necessary to the outcome – for example, if he was in the dissent or if the majority included more than five Justices – then the case will still be decided, only by an eight-member Court.
If Justice Scalia was part of a five-Justice majority in a case then a tie would create a default back to the lower court’s ruling. Because it is very unlikely that a replacement will be appointed this Term, many cases may be decided by a divided Court.
There is also recent precedent for the Court to attempt to avoid issuing a number of equally divided rulings until later. Needless to say, President Obama could decide to nominate another justice during the Senate recess, appoint someone the Republicans would vote for, or wait until the new President takes office.
Nevertheless, the Court and the country has lost a great man who was a stickler for the Constitution and left a legacy over the past 30 years. He had nine children and three times as many grandkids, a loving wife, and faithful church. History will not remember him for his superior skills, scathing rhetoric, comic and thespian displays, and his being alone in both views and friends. He had a way with words as both an orator and an author. He was a scholar, often using Latin phrases in his briefs and studying the Constitution and past cases faithfully.
FOR THOSE WHO KNEW ANTONIN SCALIA PERSONALLY AND PRIVATELY, he was the warmest friend, the most devout in his faith, the delight of any dinner party, a steady partner to his wife, and a proud and loving parent of his children.
He took very little of those qualities to the bench with him, however. When he was not displaying his biting wit, he grew impatient with what he often treated as the gropings of his colleagues or the stubbornness of counsel he saw as resisting the obvious — his view.
Read statements from his fellow justices here. May he have found Christ before his death and may his family be comforted in their sorrow. Seventy-nine years was a great many to be impacting to this nation and his family.
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